Chapter 1: "Becalmed"
Becalmed: Nautical term for the calm before a storm.
"A policeman's lot is not a happy one.
Ah, when constabulary duty's to be done, to be done,
A policeman's lot is not a happy one, hap-"
"If you do not stop that infernal humming, I shall scream louder that any of those girls in that atrocious production's chorus line!"
Sherlock Holmes's voice appeared to be under an intense strained annoyance, but I could tell from his eyes that he was not really serious. About the possibility of his screaming, anyway.
I laughed at his exasperated expression and obediently stopped my humming. He breathed a sigh of relief, linking his arm through mine comfortably as we strolled along the gaslit streets along with the rest of the theatre-goers on this lovely May evening.
A warm breeze was blowing gently through the evening air, which was for once free from the smog and fog that normally characterized this city of ours, and the temperature was that of an almost too-perfect balmy spring evening.
At the time of which I speak, May of 1894, Sherlock Holmes had finally returned to life, shocking the world and myself with the startling knowledge that he was not dead as we had all thought, only a month previously. Since his return to life and the active investigative scene, I had sold my medical practice at his insistence and moved back into our old flat at Baker Street.
After the initial shock and awkwardness of learning to again live with each other had worn off, we fell back into place with tolerable easiness and by this time were fully as comfortable with each other as we had been in the old days.
Indeed, I mused as we strolled along the theatre district this lovely night, we were even more comfortable with each other. Something had happened during Holmes's absence to make him just slightly less an automaton as he had seemed to be often early in our association. I always knew the real Sherlock Holmes did exist somewhere underneath that cold, aloof façade, but his hidden self was rarely seen in those early days.
Since his return, I had noticed – to my great pleasure, I might add – that Holmes had slightly dropped that cold mask to the extent of relaxing more around me, at least; to all outward appearances he was still the alert, aloof investigator, but occasionally, like tonight for instance, Holmes allowed himself to liberate that tense appearance and soften that cold exterior somewhat when in my company.
I was extraordinarily pleased, and touched deeply, by his gesture of this evening; for I knew how much he despised Gilbert and Sullivan, preferring the classics like Wagner and Shakespeare to the more popular entertainment of our day.
I had mentioned once, a few weeks after my return to Baker Street, that I should like to see the newest operetta, the Pirates of Penzance, saying the fact merely as a passing conversation piece at the breakfast table one morning.
And it was to my utter astonishment, and great delight, that Holmes had surprised me just this morning with stuffing two box tickets to the performance into the journal in which I had been writing up our last case, the scandalous affair of the ex-president Murillo and those dreadfully dangerous documents of his.
I will never forget the look on his face when I whirled round in my chair, holding the envelope in my hand, and staring at him with amazement.
I had only rarely seen that look before, like that of a parent watching a child open up a Christmas gift, the pleasure of seeing the appreciation on the little one's face far outweighing the expense of the gift. He had laughed at my incredulous expression and then vanished without a word into his bedroom, leaving me staring after him.
Yes, indeed, he had changed a good deal, I thought as we walked along, making our way out of the entertainment district of London and turning our steps in the direction of Baker Street.
Holmes was in the middle of some rather personal deduction about the young couple in front of us, who were obviously enjoying each other's presence a little more than most Victorian young people did in public at that time in history, and I could not help but laugh as I remembered how much I had indeed missed moments like this over the last three years.
Holmes's return had filled in that gap in my heart and mind that had left me more introspective and withdrawn than I had ever been in my life; and tonight I realized that I was, for the first time in a long time, absolutely and perfectly happy.
After a few minutes, we fell into a comfortable silence as we walked, the gaslights flickering warmly around us and the balmy breeze setting the bunting on the houses we passed fluttering gently in the evening wind.
"Holmes?" I asked at last.
"Yes, my dear fellow?"
"Thank you for going with me tonight."
Hid thin lips curved upward in a smile.
"I know the thing is not really your style –"
He laughed aloud at that colossal understatement.
"No, perhaps not," he chuckled, "but honestly, my dear fellow, I was more than glad to go – I have sorely missed these evening rambles of ours over the last three years, you know."
"We could have just gone for a walk instead of a comic operetta, Holmes," I said, watching him for his reaction and loving every minute of this discussion.
"But you wanted to see it," he protested, looking at me out of the corner of his eye – I was baiting him, and he knew it. He was merely playing along with me.
And he was not going to give me the satisfaction of what I wanted to hear, not just yet anyway.
"Yes, but still –"
"It gave me a chance to escape from Mrs. Hudson's infernal fussing," he interrupted me, "one month back in the rooms, and the woman thinks she needs to replace the drapes. Honestly!"
"Also, it gave me a chance to puzzle over than Charleston murder case, that one that's been in the Times every day for the past week," he went on, glancing slyly at me, "you remember, the one where the husband was accused of poisoning –"
"A policeman's lot is not a happy one..." I began mischievously humming that accursed tune again, eyeing my companion for the explosion I knew would follow.
He moaned dismally, and I snickered at his immaturely pouting face.
"I am so going to regret this for the rest of the week, am I not?" he said in mock despair.
"Do you suppose we can go see the Mikado next, Holmes?" I asked innocently.
I was forced to dodge a not-so-playful thin elbow as Holmes expressed his feelings very eloquently without words.
Then we both laughed, as a group of young people were watching us from a doorway, pointing and laughing.
"Hmph," Holmes muttered, "what are they staring at?"
"Probably the local dead celebrity," I said with a grin. "Maybe they have not heard that you are alive?"
He snorted derisively.
"Probably more likely they are wondering what those two old men are doing walking all the way from the theatre district instead of ordering a cab," he replied.
"Old men? I like that!" I said indignantly.
Holmes threw back his head and laughed aloud, the sound filling me with a happiness of my own – I had forgotten how much fun we could have if Holmes would simply forget that he was supposed to be a cool, competent detective, a lone wolf in the field of criminal justice, and would simply let himself be human once in a while.
Such moments had been rare before his so-called death, and I was more than thrilled at the fact that they were more frequent now.
"Oh, my dear Watson," he gasped at last, still chortling at my disgruntled expression (which was really put-on; I was nowhere near irritated), "I truly have missed this, if you can believe such a sentiment from a calculating machine such as I!"
I laughed and tightened my grip on his arm, returning the sly look he gave me.
"Hmm. First you go with me to the Pirates of Penzance, and now you tell me that you are actually glad to be in my company? Are you feeling quite well, old chap?" I put so much false medical concern into my voice that Holmes nearly lost his composure again with his snickering.
I am sure the people we passed thought us to be entirely mad, but we did not care in the least, not on an evening like this one. I was actually sorry to see Baker Street up ahead of us as we strolled along Oxford.
Holmes stopped to look in a shop window, indicating a new microscope he had his eye on and then launching into a detailed discussion about its perks right there outside the closed shop window, forcing passers-by to detour around us. I was hard put not to smile at his mood swings, for they were every bit as variable as I had remembered.
He was jabbing a bony finger at the glass of the window, pointing out some feature on the instrument, when one of our young street urchins came dashing past us on the sidewalk, nearly bowling me over right into Holmes.
The lad hastily spun on his heel when he saw us and latched onto Holmes with a war-whoop of triumph.
"Mr. 'Olmes! We done 'eard in th' papers yew weren't dead, after all!" the boy shouted, loudly enough that several people stopped to stare at us.
I hid a smile behind a cough, for Holmes looked entirely comical with this lad hanging off his full dress suit, helplessly looking at me over the boy's head as if to ask what he was supposed to do.
I indicated his pocketbook. Worked every time.
"Yes, well, Charlie, how are you and all the Irregulars?" Holmes said, trying to pry the boy's grubby arms off his waistcoat.
"Oi, we're fine, Mr. 'Olmes. Hullo, Doctor!" the boy said as Holmes disentangled himself finally.
"Hello, my boy," I said, smiling.
Holmes fumbled in his pocket and handed the lad a half-crown – the only change either of us had on us (another reason we had walked instead of taking a cab).
"Blimey!" the boy's eyes got as large as saucers.
"Now scarper, lad. I shall see you again sometime soon," Holmes directed the boy, who nodded and bounced off down the street, whooping with joy at his new-found wealth.
I dissolved into a soft peal of laughter at Holmes's exasperation as he tried unsuccessfully to straighten his rumpled waistcoat and jacket.
My friend sent me a scathing glare, and I hastily dropped a bland mask over my features as he was so fond of doing, looking innocently at him.
He laughed again, giving up on the clothing, and we continued the last remaining blocks to Baker Street in a companionable silence, just enjoying the evening.
We turned the corner onto Baker Street, and I out of old habit looked up at the sitting room, as I had done every time I found myself on this street in the last three years. But instead of seeing a white shade, I perceived a shadow on the blind, a tall male shadow.
"Looks like a client," I said to my comrade, who was also looking at the shadow.
"Such a stunning observation, Doctor," Holmes said, "you improve all the time."
I glared at him, only half in jest. "Well, go on, dazzle me then," I retorted.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Tell me what long spiel of deductions you can make from his shadow," I said.
"Well, it is a man," Holmes began.
"I rather believe I could have told you that obvious fact," I interjected as I fumbled for my key.
Holmes snickered meaningfully.
"Yes, I rather believe that is your department," he replied, obviously enjoying seeing my face flush under his teasing.
"Really, Holmes!" I hid my red face by opening the door and stepping ahead of him into the hall.
Behind me I heard his quiet laughter as he shut the door, hanging his top hat beside mine on the hall peg. He picked up a visiting card from the table.
"Midshipman William Lachlan, Portsmouth, England," Holmes read.
I whistled. "That is rather a mouthful."
"Now, Watson, that is not a very kind action, to make fun of a fellow's odd name," Holmes said chidingly as we started upstairs.
"Yes, I can imagine you found yourself on the receiving end of that unkind action at some point in your life, Holmes," I said, my face deadpan but wanting very much to laugh.
His jaw dropped as my sharp barbed teasing hit directly home, and he had barely controlled his laughter at my statement by the time we reached the sitting room door.
"I never get your limits, Watson," he muttered, his hand on the knob, and I grinned.
"Well, on to your third case since your return?"
"After you, my dear fellow."